China’s income disparity and environmental degradation are the biggest challenges currently facing the ruling Chinese Communist Party at the 100th anniversary of its founding, said Shanghai-based venture capitalist and political scientist Eric X. Li, who vigorously defended the party’s style of government while expressing doubts about liberal democracies around the world.
“Liberal societies should learn from the party state in China,” Li said. “The party state in China has been very good at self-criticism – that’s why they reinvent themselves. Liberal societies have been failing at that for decades.”
In a spirited Zoom webinar moderated by FCC President Keith Richburg, Li said the CCP had embarked on its third “reinvention” since winning power 72 years ago and transitioning to a government party and then embarking on an openness and reform policy in 1979. This latest reinvention, he said, is driven by a desire to tackle income inequality and achieve a more “balanced growth.” He added that a focus on repairing the environment was a second major priority.
He said that Western countries such as the United States need to be less arrogant, then went on to dismiss the suggestion that the CCP needs to legitimize its rule through elections or referendums because such processes have caused dysfunction and paralysis in liberal democracies.
“I think democracy needs a new set of measurements,” Li said. “I think democracy needs to be measured by outcome, not procedure.”
Asked why the CCP has little tolerance for dissent or criticism, Li countered that there is plenty of debate and difference of opinion in China, including among the party leadership. But he argued that the dissent found in liberal societies has no place in China.
“Just look at the countries that have it: they’re not being governed very effectively, they are polarized, their people hate each other, their media hate each other,” Li said. “We don’t want that.”
He also defended the more assertive, sometimes bombastic, stands by Chinese officials on social media — sometimes referred to as “Wolf Warrior diplomats” — saying Westerners were simply not used to Chinese standing up and loudly speaking back against criticism.
“They’re seeing their country being demonized by Western politicians and media, and they’re reacting to it for the first time in many decades,” Lis said. “You’d better get used to it.”
Aside from issues of income inequality and the environment, Li argued the CCP needs to steer younger generations away from populism and nationalism toward “productive socialism” and “healthy patriotism.”
“If it can do this, it will deliver on the material and spiritual aspirations of China’s new generations and, as a result, stay in power for a very long time to come,” Li said. “Success is not assured, but I wouldn’t bet against it.”
Watch the full conversation: